Interview with Open Champion Padraig Harrington, ahead of this week's US Open.
Q.Will you go to the US Open, even though your form isn’t great at the moment, thinking you are a contender?
A. Yes, in that I’ve worked on my swing and the work that I’ve been doing with Bob Torrance has all been about the US Open, certainly the first eight years and that is why I changed after the Olympic Club in San Francisco, I felt I needed to hit the ball better tee to green than I did. There I felt my short game was as good as it could be and I finished 32nd. At Winged Foot my short game was very average yet I had three pars to win it, so that showed how far I had come in terms of my own game. So yes, I believe I am a contender. The interesting thing for me as regards my form is that, right from about 16 years of age, I’ve never been able to string any results or form together in May and early June, never. I’ve won one tournament in 20 years in that period. I won the Irish Open in that period and came close in the US Open at the tail end of that period but I haven’t been able to string any performances together in that period. It used to be the time I did exams when I was an amateur so it was a case of shut down the clubs and get down to some studying but once May hits, through to the start of June, it would be interesting to go back through my records. It’s Wentworth, tournaments like that, I always struggle. I won the Spanish Open right at the very start of May and I seem to be okay right at the very start of May but it is probably only the Irish Open in that period since that I’ve done half well in. I think it is because it is the middle of the year. At the start of the year you’re keen and then you get into this period of time in the year when you get all mixed up in what you are trying to do and you don’t have the same clarity of focus. But hopefully the US Open, I’m building up for it, I don’t feel like there is anything particularly out of shape, I just need to be a bit more trusting with myself and work on my concentration and focus.
Q. A lot of people might have expected you to start winning for fun since winning the Open but that hasn’t happened?
A. I’m just not that type of person, never have been. A lot of guys when they win a Major they play well for the next three or four months, I didn’t. But I have just never been built that way. I tend to play better when I am on my lowest form rather than on my best form. When I am confident I don’t tend to do well for some reason but when I’m not confident or perhaps struggling a little bit, I tend to come out and do really well.
Q. Is that because you are focusing and concentrating harder on getting things right?
A. I’ve looked at it in technical terms and sometimes when you’re confident, you go to take on a shot and maybe when you are swinging you are questioning whether you should be that aggressive let’s say. When you’re not confident, you hit the right shot all the time because you only take the ones you can hit and play safe all the other times. When you are confident you can get drawn in to taking on shots. That could be it, but this is definitely something I work with Bob Rotella on and this is why it takes me a couple of weeks to warm up. The two weeks warming up are designed to get me absolutely neutral. I’m not thinking good or bad.
Q. In the first three days of a Major is it all about your overall position?
A. It is all about jockeying for position. But I’ve got to say it is easier at a Major than in a regular tournament.
A. Because you don’t feel that anybody is going to run away from you. You can be so patient at a Major. You just trundle along there and you know that nobody is going to get away from you. Even if somebody gets off to a good start or whatever, they will always slow up or if not come back. It is always nice at a Major because you feel like you have all the time in the world. I double bogeyed the 36th hole at the Open last year and I walked off the green and said that won’t make a single bit of difference to whether I win the Open this year. It may make a difference as to whether I finish tenth or ninth but as regards winning, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. In a Major we all look at a figure and if we are ahead we’ll drop back and if we are behind we’ll chase on and whether or not I made a double bogey or not, it didn’t make a huge deal of significance, I was always going to try and move towards that figure and you do get that feeling in a Major that it is a long week and you have to try and be patient. You are only looking to be there with nine holes to go.
Q. And when you get there with nine holes to go, would you rather be in the lead or perhaps one shot behind on somebody’s shoulder and chasing?
A. I’d rather take the lead as early as possible and be leading with nine holes to go and put yourself out there but there is no question that a lot of the time, the easiest way to win tournaments is steady as you go and try not to put yourself under too much stress. It does take a huge mental requirement on a Sunday, focus wise and energy wise and having not put yourself out there for three and a half days helps, whereas if you have had three and a half days of leading and all the press that goes with that, all the pressure that goes with, while you have the confidence of leading and the benefit of leading, you are not going to be as strong as somebody who has just been hanging around there nicely.
Q. Sergio got a bit defensive at the Open with irons off tees etc, presumably you had no option from your position?
A. In my position it was easy, nobody would have known if I had shot 72, that’s it. I was saying it to McGinley the other day. He goes out at the BMW PGA Championship and shoots 65-66 and he was talking about his third round and how disappointed he was. But he could have shot 72-72-70-68 and finished in the same tie for tenth place and people would have patted him on the back and said well done – but what use would that have been? He’d have finished in the same position, six under par, but what use would that have been? As in the 65-66 put himself under pressure, put himself out there and whereas it didn’t go so well for him over the weekend, he is still going to be a better player for it. In many ways, if you are leading after the first two rounds of a Major you are going to put a lot of pressure on yourself and a lot of stress. Yes you want to be there, yes you are learning and becoming a better golfer but it is not the stress free way to go and win a golf tournament. Anybody who wins a tournament like Trevor Immelman did at the Masters from the front, fair play to them.
Q. At the Open you and Paul started on the same position going into the final day of the Open at Carnoustie didn’t you?
A. Yes we did at three under par I remember we were back to back groups. I think Paul started better on the week than I did but I had certainly one of those tournaments where the only person worried about my scoring was me. I wasn’t being dragged into the Press Tent every evening and being asked, can you win from here. You guys have to ask those type of questions I know but when a guy shoots 66 in the first round of a Major, the first thing you guys always say to him is, do you think you can hang on! There is not anybody who wouldn’t want to be in that position, I’m just suggesting to you that it is a hard position to be in. I know it is going to be a tough battle on Sunday so I’m not too perturbed whether I’m one behind or one ahead going down that back nine holes because I know I need to play those nine holes better than my challengers regardless if I have a one shot lead or am one behind. If you play the best golf over those last nine holes, the likelihood is that you’ll catch anyone, even a guy who might be three shots ahead of you.
Q. The last person from these Isles to win a Major two years running was Tony Jacklin going back forty odd years. How much would you like to double up in a year?
A. I don’t know about doubling up, but it is certainly about when you have got one, trying to get two. You could argue that the sooner the better but my own principles would be to make sure I get myself into position enough times and then the second one will follow. It would be silly to say I have got to go and win the next Major, or I have to go and win a Major this year, it is only adding pressure. I think it is reasonable to say I want to do X, Y and Z to get myself into position and have a chance of winning some of the Majors left this year, working on the principle that if I do that this year and the next few years, that I will win more Majors.
Q. Do you think the second one will be harder to win that the first?
A. No. I think there is no question that winning a Major brings a burden with it but that burden is definitely made up for, when you are in a position to win another one. Already having won one should make it easier to win the next time when you get there. It helps you in having the confidence to know what to do but it does put the extra pressure on you in terms of expectation because you are not going under the radar any more. But once you are in that position having won one, it has got to be an advantage. You have the confidence that you’ve done it before and you also have the benefit of perhaps feeling a little bit more relaxed and thinking it is the be all and end all. The difference between one and two is different to the difference between zero and one. So maybe there isn’t so much pressure on you.
Q. Interesting that you used the phrase under the radar - you can no longer do anything under the radar. How much has that changed for you in the past ten months?
A. I think in many ways it has changed in terms of how often it happens but there were plenty of times in the past when I said I couldn’t go under the radar like the Irish Open for the past ten years and certain other events all the way through. It is perhaps more often now and more significant in terms it is every week now whereas it was maybe half the weeks before and maybe a quarter of the weeks two or three years ago and maybe only one or two weeks ten years ago. It brings an extra bit with it but you get used to that.
Q. Do you think you adapt well to a US Open set-up better than any other Major?
A. I would suggest I have spent my last ten years trying to adapt my swing to play US Open golf. I’d say the last two years, that and the Masters have attracted my attention more than anything else. Every time I go to the practice ground, those are the two events I am probably thinking about, definitely. Interesting that I won the Open in that period but my ball flight was probably better to play Open golf ten years ago in the fact that I get much more spin on the ball now than I ever did, but now is much more built for hitting it straight and controlling my irons. Every time I hit the range, those type of courses are in my mind.
Q. Do you think anything you learned from Winged Foot, carried into the final day at Carnoustie?
A. Yes some of it. It definitely made me realise that you have to keep an open mind when it comes to a Major. You see anybody up there on the leaderboard and you see a guy with the lead and you can’t believe that he is going to keep that lead. Often you see a guy going along and you think he must be playing well but maybe he is just holing a few putts and is going to fall away. You just have to be very committed to doing your own thing in a Major. What I got from Winged Foot as well you have to remember is that I walked away thinking that I played okay that week. I played especially well on the Sunday in terms of tee to green but I wasn’t holing putts and wasn’t getting the breaks and so I actually putted very poorly on the Sunday – I had a awful day on the Sunday which nobody would ever know about except for me. But I walked away from it thinking, that was well within me and I think that Winged Foot helped me going into all the other Majors. You walk away thinking I was three pars away from winning, realistically it was not like I had an outrageous week on the greens, because I missed something like five putts from inside 12 feet in the final round. All right to left as it turned out. You don’t normally do well when that sort of thing is happening. You walk away thinking I had the ability to win, that is exactly what you are thinking. If I had had a week where I chipped in a couple of times, got a couple of breaks and holed a few putts, I’d be thinking that’s as good as I’m ever going to do. But I walked away from that US Open thinking that was okay.
Q. Not thinking, that was my big chance?
A. No I definitely didn’t walk away thinking that was my big chance. I walked away thinking I had had a great chance and I was disappointed but I definitely walked away looking forward to the next one. However, I don’t think I’ll ever get a better chance, three pars to win the US Open sounds easy, rolls off the tongue doesn’t it. I don’t think I’ll ever get a better chance in terms of that’s as good a chance as ever but I don’t believe I need a better chance, I just need to take the right chance.
Q. The more Majors which go by without Tiger winning one, does the fear factor diminish?
A. I am totally focused on what I do in a Major. I do not look around me at other guys or anybody else. The battle very much is with me. You just can’t. If you start worrying about Tiger Woods, if somebody else has a good week then they might be the best player in the world that week so you can’t. A guy playing well versus Tiger playing average is going to win as it has been proved. So you can’t worry about one player, you’d start worrying about every player in the field if you start going down that line. Do worry about one player – yourself.